We buried my father’s brother today. Amidst all the polite words, the comforting words, the encouraging words, I wanted to hear something about the brutality of death. Even though death came to Erik softly, surrounded by loving family, even though death had the appearance of a kindness, bringing an end to a difficult decline, I wanted the truth be spoken that even with its gentlest face death is still death.
We see the horror when innocents are shot in a school. We see the harsh brutality when a young man turns a pistol on himself. When a young mother is taken by cancer we know that life has been stolen from the world. And I want someone here to say out loud that life has been stolen from the world.
These sparkling eyes are lost to us. This dry wit. This brilliant mind. These tender fingers working the garden soil. This passionate scientific care of the earth. This loving care of family. Life has been stolen from the world.
Life has been stolen. We were made in the image of God: living, loving, creating, dreaming, building, singing, dancing in the garden of God. We see it so clearly in children, that passion for life, the passion to learn, the drive to crawl then walk then run. The need to read. The fascination with taking things apart and putting them back together. That wondrous giggling discovery that dropping things from your highchair makes people vanish then magically reappear. You cannot stop a child from dancing. They will paint with fingernail polish and lipstick if those are the only tools available to them. They imagine worlds of dinosaurs and friendly ghosts in every color of the rainbow. We see the image of God in them. The image we all bear.
And then death sets to work. Chipping away the heart and soul. Silencing the song. Drugging the dance. Dulling the passion God created. Pushing us to settle for lies and illusions. Delighting in staining the world with sorrow until at last it drags us down into the realm of shadows.
I want someone to cry out that life has been stolen from us, God’s creation has been attacked like a hidden sniper picking off our joy – picking off God’s joy.
I need someone to say that death is death. This is wrong. The tears are wrong. The hole in the ground is wrong. God made us to plant not to be planted. We were supposed to live in harmony with God and one another in free access to the tree of life.
But humanity chose the other tree, the forbidden tree, forbidden only because it would bring knowledge of life’s sorrows. We chose poorly and lost the garden. We opened the door for Death to begin its work, turning our first parents away from God and sending them into hiding, turning Cain against Abel and soiling the earth with blood.
Someone needs to say this is all wrong. It isn’t what should be.
And then they need to say that the grave wherein they laid the body of Jesus is empty.
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The grave wherein they laid the body of Jesus is empty. Life has been pried out of death’s hand. The gate that guards the realm of shadows is torn down. The tyrant who holds us in fear is revealed as a usurper. This is not death’s realm; “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”
Now can the word of comfort speak: “neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities…shall ever separate us from the love of God.” Now it speaks as a word of power not the murmurs of a mother to a tearful child. We do not live by gentle reassurances but by the word of the Lord that breaks rocks in pieces. “Lazarus come forth” Jesus cries out not just to Lazarus but to all the earth. And it is spoken to us today. Come forth. Come forth into the realm of life. Come forth into the realm made known by the empty tomb. Come forth into the life of the risen Lord who breathes a new spirit upon us. Come forth from darkness into the unconquerable light, from sorrow into that joy that does not perish, from the valley of death’s dark shadow into that life that is eternal.
And now we work to release one another from the shrouds that we can live free and unbound.